Royal BC Museum Victoria

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For Vancouver Island school children, this museum has permanent exhibits that go a ways back and never become dull. It has been at least 10 years since I had been and to the BC Museum. It occurred to me that what differentiates it from other provincial museums, say the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, is that this museum is truly focused on its own province.

We were lucky to have a quiet day on the off season and, due to having a 5-year-old, we thought it best to work on the 3rd floor that’s the most jam-packed with exhibits. We started with pre-European contact history and learned a lot about the indigenous cultures before anyone in the so-called Old World had found them.

When examining the tools made from rock and bone, it was fascinating to see just how specialized they made them to catch specific fish. What became evident is the constant work that went on just to keep a tribe alive. When they showed artifacts from the interior tribes, it showed how much harder in the less temperate climates it was to stay alive. The sheer effort into food capture and preparation was stunning. All sorts of plants were used for food, preservation and medicine. And to think we complain about going to Safeway.

The First Nations of the Pacific west coast have artwork that is richer that others to the east and it occurred to me that perhaps only the easier climate and choice of both hunting and fishing gave them the excess supply of food and therefore the spare time to develop more art.

But, I could not help imagining doing some sort of work back then tripping and breaking my leg. No painkillers. No real doctors with understanding of anatomy. The joys of joints healing unaligned.

Of course the wheels really fell off for the natives when the Europeans arrived.

There was section with masks and a narrative played that discussed the role of the Raven in creation myth. In the not-too-distant past, the government sent them to Residential Schools to be told that their beliefs were wrong and a lie. And, of course, creating the cosmos in 7 days is just so much more logical.

As we progressed further forward in time, the early years of the province came to life in re-creations. We even sat in a mini movie theatre and watched part of a Charlie Chaplin film; you forget how good his stuff was.

The kids easily pretended we were travelling in time.

It’s not often you see artifacts in a museum where you personally know the lady who donated them. Fishing rods from the early days were credited to the grandfather of a family friend. I know the basement in Victoria from which the fishing gear was recovered. Along with unexploded munitions from World War I.

The exhibits about early logging, mining and farming made me wonder how anyone willingly participated in such insanely dangerous work.

We took a snack break at the CafĂ©, which was very pleasant because it was so quiet. But I don’t know how it functions at all on a busy day. It was small.

Once refreshed, it was on to the 2nd floor for the natural history area. The signature re-creation of a mammoth greeted us as we came in. There’s a truly decent description of the ice age creatures. It’s a pity they died out before European discovery because wouldn’t it have been cool to actually have records of someone seeing a Sabretooth Tiger?

As you progressed along, there were rather convincing re-creations of the forest types in BC as well as the Pacific Coast. I can say this because I’d actually hiked these areas and I know for many just the drive to Tofino from Victoria is pretty daunting. And, if you came from eastern Canada, getting west of Vancouver adds a chunk of cost for the ferry trip.

There’s a new climate change exhibit which frankly is depressing. However, it’s obvious that if we said cleaned up after ourselves better right now and actively cleaned up the old mess, we’d be better off.

Let’s hope that the only way to enjoy the outdoors is not restricted to excellent indoor exhibits at museums like this one!

For more information check out royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

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